Mercedez-Benz is the first car company in the United States to achieve Level 3 compliance certification for autonomous vehicles, beating Tesla to the elusive term Autopilot.
Mercedez-Benz is now the first car company to achieve level 3 compliance certification for autonomous vehicles. The news reignites the debate over the possibility of reaching the level of fully autonomous vehicles, meaning vehicles that do not require a driver or distance. . The controversy over advances in automotive artificial intelligence is why manufacturers like Tesla are taking issue with misleading terms like Autopilot.
This milestone marks Mercedes-Benz’s revolutionary DRIVE PILOT system as the first and only Level 3 system in a production vehicle approved for use on US public highways.
Autonomy of vehicles is determined by levels:
- Level 0: driver remains in control;
- Level 1: the computer can intervene to control speed or direction (cruise control, safety distance warning), but the driver retains control of the vehicle;
- Level 2: the car can be driven temporarily, for example by parking itself (parking assistant). The driver is responsible for driving;
- Level 3: the driver can delegate driving to the computer in certain situations, such as traffic jams. The Volvo XC 90’s traffic jam function perfectly illustrates this level. The computer can also tell the driver when to steer the vehicle;
- Level 4: no driver is needed in some predefined cases; the vehicle drops off the driver, parks alone and returns to pick up the owner;
- Level 5: the vehicle is fully autonomous and controls all vehicle functions. It may or may not be a driver.
The news reignites the debate over the prospect of achieving Level 5 autonomy.Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt says you won’t get 100% autonomous cars even decades from now. The latter believes that remote assistance is here to stay. However, despite the warnings, many people consider partially autonomous cars to be fully autonomous. In many cases, the fault lies in the trade policy of certain manufacturers. For example, Tesla uses the term Autopilot for a driver assistance system classified as Level 2.
The reality with this terminology is that it can confuse drivers about the true capabilities of the system. A survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides valuable information for this discussion. The group asked drivers questions about the capabilities of five advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). They identified products only by brand: Autopilot (used by Tesla), Traffic Assist (Audi and Acura), Super Cruise (Cadillac), Driving Assistant Plus (BMW), and ProPilot Assist (Nissan). Respondents did not know which manufacturer produced each product and its capabilities. There were 2,000 respondents in total, but only two of the five systems were asked about, with several hundred responses per product.
For each ADAS system, drivers were asked about the safety of various activities not recommended by car manufacturers (from taking their hands off the wheel to falling asleep while driving). More participants felt that each of these actions was harmless with Autopilot active than with any of the other four ADAS systems.
For example, 48% of respondents said it was safe for the driver to take their hands off the wheel when Autopilot was activated, compared to about 33% for ProPilot Assist and less than 30% for other named systems. Six percent of drivers said it was safe to sleep in a car with autopilot enabled, compared to only three percent for other ADAS systems.
These behaviors, caused by the advertising policies of certain manufacturers, are likely to explain the accidents involving these autonomous vehicles. According to the numbers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated 35 crashes since 2016 and found that Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” or “Autopilot” system was used in 16 cases.
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